As we started investigating the runners we’d be meeting at the Jacksonville OTQ Project, a strange realization developed. The sweet young guy who asked whether he needed to renew his USATF membership before the race for his time to qualify and who ended up leading a huge pack of new Olympic Trials Qualifiers? That was Makorobondo “Dee” Salukombo who lives and trains in Cleveland! The women of Cleveland Elite Development had the largest showing of any team at Jacksonville. And that’s not all!
One of the brains behind the event, Esther Atkins was perhaps the biggest running star Case Western Reserve University ever produced. You guessed it: Case is in Cleveland. Heidi Greenwood lived and trained for a few years here while her husband did his residency at the Cleveland Clinic. Nicole Camp is from a small town outside of Cleveland and moved closer to the city after college to train and work for a few years before joining Hudson Elite in Colorado, even qualifying for her first Olympic Trials at the 2011 Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon. Even track great Sara Slattery has a connection, winning the U.S.A. 8k Championship in nearby Akron in 2008.
Yes, we’re talking about that Cleveland. Cleveland like Cleveland, Ohio. The Mistake on the Lake. The place from that cheesy Ian Hunter song. Drew Carey and bowling and the pathetic professional sports teams. The burning river with the unpronouncable name.
And look, I’ve lived in New York and Chicago. I’ve lived in the running mecca of Boulder, Colorado. My best friend mocks me to this day from her overpriced home in San Francisco, but my heart has always been in Cleveland, and I chose to move back because I knew how good life can be here. And really, the weather isn’t half as bad as you might think.
Laugh all you like, but it really is like that 30 Rock episode. A lot of people think Cleveland sucks, but it is hot in Cleveland. And it’s especially hot for runners.
Central Park and the Presidio are nice and all, but my heart, and many other hearts, belongs on the paths winding through the Emerald Necklace and the CVNP. Almost anywhere you find yourself in the Cleveland area, you’ll have great places to run close by. The Cleveland Metroparks, nicknamed the Emerald Necklace, rival any metropolitan park system and feature miles and miles of paved paths, bridle and more technical trails as well as scenic roads teeming with runners. Surrounding counties, Lake, Geauga, Summit, Medina, and Lorain, also feature fantastic regional park systems.
Just a few miles south of downtown you can run in the spectacular Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where you’ll find runners all along the flat, soft, limestone path that starts in Cleveland to the north, runs 20 miles through the National Park, and then continues over 50 miles south through Akron and beyond. If you’re looking for more technical terrain, the CVNP trails are glorious. Even the roads in and around the park offer great running.
Something else that might surprise you is that the Cleveland area has one of, if not the highest density of local running stores. From my front door, there are no less than five, FIVE, count ’em (one, two, three, four, five) running stores within 15 miles. Between Cleveland and Akron there are over a dozen, almost all of which serve as hubs for the Cleveland running community.
And speaking of community, there are thriving running clubs in virtually every part of the Greater Cleveland area. From track clubs, trail groups, running moms, regional road running clubs, competitive racing teams, and even elite development groups, Cleveland has it all. An added bonus? As many of you competitive women runners will understand, Cleveland is one place where no matter how fast you are, you are almost guaranteed to have other women to train with.
Looking for races? Cleveland’s got you covered whether you’re looking to own an ultra, master the marathon or tear up the track. On any given weekend Clevelanders have many options to push it to the limit. If you’re fast, there are races with great prizes. If you’re not as fast there are small races where you might still win your age group. If you’re just starting out there are tons of 5k and even mile races to cut your teeth on and if you have a family of runners there are plenty of races for kids.
All this isn’t just a list, friends, it’s the beginning of the story. Tune in for more feature about running in Cleveland. Maybe they’ll inspire a visit to our Rust Belt running mecca or even a relocation … if you’re lucky.
Are you surprised to learn Cleveland is awesome for running? If you already love Cleveland running, what’s your favorite part?